Sacked Watts considers claim

Watts: "complained to editor"

Mark Watts, chief investigations reporter at Sunday Business, has been sacked for gross misconduct after writing e-mails to editor Nils Pratley protesting at the break-up of the paper’s investigations unit.

He is said to be considering going to an employment tribunal to claim unfair dismissal.

Watts – ex-World in Action and Sunday Times – was at the paper from launch. He was suspended in May.

Together with Conal Walsh and Jat Gill, he formed the unit when Jeff Randall edited the paper. It broke many hard stories, in particular a string of scoops on the Mirror share-dealing affair.

One of Pratley’s first changes was to transfer Gill to help cover e-business. Both Gill and Watts were said by colleagues to be furious since neither was consulted. Watts told Pratley that it was likely to lead to Gill or Walsh leaving – or both.

Within weeks, Walsh resigned to join former Sunday Business news editor Frank Kane at The Observer, where Kane is now business editor.

Neither Gill nor Walsh was replaced and Watts complained in an internal memo to Pratley, copied to personnel officer Rosalind Bull, pressing for the unit’s reinstatement.

After a brief exchange of memos between Watts and Pratley, Sunday Business managing director Paul Woolfenden suspended Watts on full pay for gross misconduct over the memos.

At two grievance procedure hearings, Watts said there had been a fundamental breach of his contract – he had been hired to run an investigations unit, but there was no longer any unit.

Watts was told last week that he was sacked from the end of the month, with the company paying him his notice and outstanding holiday pay only. The reason given was a breakdown in relations between Watts, Pratley and Woolfenden.

Staff are said to be utterly amazed and somewhat depressed by the whole episode, not least because Watts was a joint father of the newly formed NUJ chapel which is to ballot on recognition in September.

Another joint FoC, sub-editor Dave Waller, has been made redundant and has already lodged an employment tribunal claim. The third joint FoC was Kane.

Woolfenden was unavailable for comment.

By Jean Morgan

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